The surprise of the secret city is its lustre. It is bathed in light: its rivers glitter, dark with indistinct lights. Upon its bridges gather the rich, the lazy, the perverted, the curious. An eccentric chill on the early air half blows the fool's flower from his hair. We are all masked, anything can happen now. Under the bridges the water hits the banks with a wet slap. Little blisters of light flare and disappear. How we found ourselves here I will never know. But here we are and we are about to make our mark.
Feathers and glue, fivers and glee. When Alisha came up with the idea of a circus we were all amazed. She clapped her hands in the oily candlelight and announced her plan. We will build ourselves a circus and travel the seven Cs she said: Celebration, corruption, calumny, creativity. These were just the first four cs. My heart quailed. We will visit the coded, the cracked and the crowned she finished. We will immerse ourselves in a mess of sequins and feathers and live a highwire life of gaudy glories. Nothing will ever look the same again.
I shut my eyes and pretend it is a dream, her dream, and that in a minute she will awaken to the smell of singed feathers and I will be holding a mirror to her mouth.
Alisha sees me, reads my thoughts too easily and smiles.
Come, come, Electra, she promises. We can start living life for kicks, take your nourishment from the mythic fruit, the pomegranate, the shiny apple, go on I dare you...
She has about her the edginess of a horror movie, my mother, with her sooty eyes and her lightness of gaze. My mother is a woman who can look right at you and see you as her next big project. I fear it will be scary work this circus.
Great raspberry-coloured silks go up, hoisted aloft and tied to a golden pole by naughty chimpanzees. Curtains drop over darkened apertures. My mother is a stripteuse of the imagination. She sees our dreams and undresses them.
The tent is strung with little turquoise lights, floored with sawdust and the petals of rejected roses that my father buys for her by the hundred. It smells of wood, silk, lust, something faintly urinous. Oh yes, the circus has a funky smell. She called it our big top and the words sounded ludicrous in her mouth. But she spun at its centre like a whirling dirvish, like a freak or a visionary.
Rafael and I are the aerialists. He steps out across the abyss, the wisdom of the spheres ringing in his head.My talcumned feet bleed each night and she binds them in ribbons of torn-off silk. He follows his bliss. Holes and fissures seem to spring up behind his feet, and he steps lightly. Unlike everyone else he knows, he does not take himself seriously. And far below, Mary in blue, stitches in tiny stitches as she mends the rents. (What she cannot mend is the hole in his soul.) Courage she says, and two tears stand in her eyes. They are the only signs of water in her. In the middle of the rope he stops, stoops and whispers in my ear: To the audience you are already a ghost. If I flinch, I lose my footing. If I fall, I fall like an acrobat. Falling and flying, says Rafael, are almost identical sensations, almost twinned. Only in the very last detail are they differentiated. When we crash, we crash spectacularly.